Dividends and God’s Bankers part 2

In the US, we all have opinions about religion, and there are many who practice religion and focus on becoming better people. If that is all the majority do, then it is very worthwhile and helps form a valuable people in society. Sometimes we disagree with the administration of religion and how rich is the religion. Most people do not know, that is why there are books such as God’s Bankers – A History of Money and Power at the Vatican by Gerald Posner, published by Simon & Schuster, NY, 2015.

For most of its administration, the reality of the Catholic Church was it was cash flow poor. That was not a bad thing, but it did lead to reasons to leave the church. In 1929, the Catholic Church received compensation from the newly formed government of Italy the equivalent of $1.3 billion. What does it do with the money? Similar to you, if you inherited some money what would you do with it? The usual answer is some renovation of your house or buying a new one and investing some of it. The church did add to its buildings in Vatican City. The church also hired Bernardino Nogara to invest the money.

He started with trying to diversify money from Rome and Italy into Europe, but most of us will know the 1930’s meant the world recession. The investments lost money, however he did allocate money into gold. By the mid 1930’s stock prices around the world were depressed. Mr. Nogara was a buyer and soon the Vatican had large positions (often controlling interests or majority control) in Italian financial institutions, utility, mining, textile and property companies. The government of Italy was selling some of its assets including Italgas and the Vatican became a majority owner. This was one of the best investments for the Vatican.

The good news for the Vatican was the diversification stabilized the church’s income. The bad news is the government of the day was Mussolini and the ties were strengthened. In one sense the Pope was happy because he did not like communists, but he was okay with the fascism.

The book outlines the relationship between Hitler, Mussolini and their governments before and after WW II. Clear lines between morality and what is good were clearly erased.

After the war, one of the things Mr. Nogara accumulated was a great deal on land outside Vatican City in and around Rome. Much of the 1960’s Olympics in Rome was on Vatican land sold to government of Italy. At the time, the Catholic Church owned more land outside Vatican City than it did inside at 102 million square feet of property. For any institution selling off land, is a one time gain.

One should remember the Catholic Church in 1960 had 600 million followers; 5 million lay employees; 20 million children in parochial schools; a million nuns; 250,000 priests and a charity that was one of the world’s largest (13 million people were receiving some type of assistance). They had and have man on going costs. After 1960, the Catholic Church sold many of its holdings in Italian companies to be less than majority shares.

Linking to dividend paying stocks, as an individual your ongoing costs are not institutional in size which means you can own as many shares as desired as long as they fit under financial needs. Unlike the church which should have spiritual needs or morality, your sense can be what is legal or what is moral. Fortunately there are many alternatives for you.

There are more questions than answers, till the next time – to raising questions.

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